From Epictetus, Discourses, 2.2:
“But if you gape open-mouthed at externals, you must needs be tossed up and down according to the will of your master. And who is your master? He who has authority over any of the things upon which you set your heart or which you wish to avoid.”
What do I gape open-mouthed at?
What do I long for, yearn for, linger over, follow, track?
If anything external, then I make it my master. It determines my choice, my pursuit and avoidance. I spend my resources in effort to gain proximity. I consume as much as possible.
The trouble is that “you must needs be tossed up and down according to the will of your master”. Externals are out of our control: body, property, reputation. To attach the soul to that which is out of the soul’s control is to treat the soul, that which is in my control, as if it were not and what is not in my control as if it were. A recipe for trouble.
This is the ultimate evil. To not treat something as it is. To not give it its due. To not accord it what is its by its very nature.
And so, many questions from the student. What do I do if I find myself attached. What if I am unsure whether I am attached?
As to the second, I must take notes of my wants in the realm of desire and avoidance. To the degree that I find myself wanting that which I cannot control to be other than it can be I find myself attached to externals.
As to the first, a couple recommendations from Epictetus:
(1.26), “This, then, is a starting point in philosophy—a perception of the state of one’s own governing principle; for when once a man realizes that it is weak, he will no longer wish to employ it upon great matters.”
Once I am ready to discard my old governing principle (god) and take on the new (god), then I can begin training. Once I have a sense, indicated by my measure of my own desire and avoidance, of what I am governed by, I may set the goal of more and more governance by the true god, nature, reason (synonyms). Practically, this is measured by tranquility (peace). The increased periods of tranquility (without disruption by waves of passion related to externals) are indications of progress. More practically, I am to act the way I want to be. To the degree that I am able to respond adequately to the changing environment around me by being that which it most needs at each moment, and in tranquility, my practice is paying off.
So, I should not look for hand-held advice for each situation I will encounter. I will only learn how to look for advice, how to hold hands and depend on another. It is time for me to become solid. Here is the advice, (2.2) “What advice am I to give you? Nay, say rather, ‘Enable my mind to adapt itself to whatever comes.’”
Take this analogy to writing (2.2): “But if you have practiced writing, you are able also to prepare yourself for everything that is dictated to you; if you have not practiced, what advice can I now offer you? For if circumstances dictate something different, what will you say or what will you do?”
Similarly? Practice adapting yourself to whatever comes, knowing that you are not in control of what comes, but you are in control of how you will respond. Once this very general and all-pervasive principle is practiced–and it can always be practiced–I have my exercise, my guide for training, the weights which I must lift.
I cannot control much. But what I can control is all I need to control. The coach has given me the exercise. The opportunity for training is inexhaustible. Finally, gratitude. Could I imagine a better situation than to find myself with the insight for training and a well-equipped weight room? I could not.